Haven Winter Blog Series #3: “Perfectionists”

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Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1

We All Have a Fanny

I’ve got this woman who lives behind me who constantly shares her negative thoughts and opinions even if I don’t feel like listening.  I call her Fanny because she’s a pain in the ass…  She shows up unannounced all of the time and is never a welcomed guest.  Ever.  Just when I am having a great day and begin to feel very proud of the words I’ve written, the delicious dinner I’ve made, or a gift I’ve created, she rears her ugly “Fannyesque” head and shouts out a criticism.  Do you really think someone will read that?!?!  Are you sure you didn’t add too much garlic?!?!  That kind of looks like a kindergartner made it!!  I don’t know where this evil woman came from but perhaps she is simply the collective voice for every criticism I’ve ever heard in this life.  The collective voice reminding me to play it safe and avoid risks.  The collective voice constantly reminding me that homogony is best in every situation.  I never invite her in, but she’s always behind me because Fanny is the inner critic inside my mind.  I have made many attempts at thwarting her in order to live more freely and creatively, but these attempts have been fairly unsuccessful…until recently.

I was on a flight home from a conference when Fanny was in rare form.  She was berating me for my outfit choices and second guessing every word I had spoken for the four days I was away from home.  It was then that I had an epiphany that I needed to try and make friends with Fanny and greet her kindly when she arrives instead of trying to run from her, or worse yet, engage in her madness and agree with her.

This. Epiphany. Was. Huge.  However, I recognized that it was going to take a lot of work on my part.  I decided I was going to have to do two things in order to create a long lasting shift in my life and stop looking to Fanny for guidance or punishment:  First, I needed to honestly take a look at and acknowledge my own perfectionistic qualities, and second, each and every time I acknowledge them, think of how much I appreciate authentic people in my life and dislike being around perfectionists who are constantly trying to alleviate their own discomfort by proving to me that they are perfect.  How could it be that I admire authentic people so much, but struggle to be authentic myself?  I could make this change, right?

The first creative endeavor I accomplished after this epiphany was to write a blog for work.  Fanny sat in my office with me the entire time, but I chose to invite her.  I listened to her critiques, but continued to write anyway.  And, you know what, when my blog went live on our website, I got really great feedback. Who knew?

Secondly, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house with way too many people for our small dining room and allowed everyone to bring a dish.  I gave up the need to cook and control everything in order for it to be “perfect” and coached myself through the process by remembering a dinner party at a friend’s house that couldn’t have been more enjoyable or delicious…even after her dog took a dump next to the perfectly set table right before we sat down.   That dinner party was so remarkable because her dog completely broke down any perfectionism in the room by being his authentic geriatric self.  After that, we dined on incredible food, drank a bit too much wine, and laughed all night.   This being said, my Thanksgiving feast went off similarly albeit my dog was on his best behavior.

Third, I have dried all of the herbs from my summer herb garden and created small gifts for Christmas presents.  I designed the labels and hand wrote messages on them.  When Fanny chuckled at how immature the labels looked, I laughed with her thinking about how much my dear foodie friends will enjoy using these gifts and how thankful I am that I actually made them this year instead of letting the plants succumb to the winter weather.

Fanny and I may always find ourselves dancing through this interplay of perfectionism and creativity, but I am beginning to see our dance becoming more like a waltz and less like a tango.  With less resistance, we synchronize our steps together gently reminding each other of our individual presence, as well as, taking accountability for each of our parts in this dance of life.  And now, I am beginning to relish in the awareness that I am becoming more like the authentic and creative people I admire in my life and less like a person who is trying to gain the approval of others…in particular, the approval of Fanny.

- Christine Watkins Integral Executive and Leadership Coach  www.AlignLeadership.com


Post #2

In the Clearing
A wise person once said to me, “Kris, you think that everything you do needs to be brilliant.” My first thought was, “Well, duh. Ahhhh, YeeaaaAH!” But instead, I smiled and waited for her to go on. “If it’s sincere and comes from the heart, it will be meaningful. And THAT’s what will make an impression.” Tru dat, wise person. Though, my perfectionist ego panics daily with the need to shower the world with shiny, dew drops of wit, wisdom and beauty, my soul knows there’s a better way to fuel my fires of creativity.

It’s true, perfectionism, mine in particular at least, is the deathmate of creativity. Both end up going down hard like Romeo and Juliet in a sad, tragic pirouette of fate. The constant drive for the perfect word, perfect approach, perfect shot, perfect moment can lead to perfect paralysis. Burgeoning ideas recede and cower in the dark crevices of my mind, projects float like a lost vessel while I drown in possibilities and decisions and my soaring enthusiasm kamikazes into despair.

Enter self compassion.

At the present moment, I have no less than three notebooks surrounding me. They are there as my gentle companions – my support network – waiting lovingly to capture the twisted trail of schizophrenic thoughts that surface whenever I sit down to create. Instead of forcing myself to banish these extraneous thoughts to a place of exile, or strong-hand myself into disciplined focus, I turn a kind heart to my over-functioning brain. You see, I believe that all of these thoughts are worthy of attention, even the most obscure, self-deprecating, or mundane. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be crying – demanding – to be heard. There’s a potential story, discovery or opportunity for healing or growth in each one: Mom’s stuff on Craigs List –worst daughter – why do I stall – she’s done so much for me…Get to the gym already – healthy body, healthy mind … Are my dogs staring me down right now – Walk them already – they are your reminders that play and exercise are important… My dad has cancer *tear spurts*– my dad has cancer….Remember to bake pumpkin bars-you love baking – it feeds your soul …It was this time, three years ago that you were about to embark upon the worst set of holidays of your life – how little you knew then….

You clearly get the point.  Since I don’t often know where each of these thoughts may go and how much nurturing they need, I give each one enough space among the blank pages of my cherished notebooks to run their course. Turning this ease and compassion inward, just as I would for a scared or confused child, opens up space…helps me breathe…and slowly, the mental clutter begins to dissipate. Grace sets in and I get the chance to get back to nothingness…stillness…my own clearing in the forest. That’s where the magic happens.

Enter S-P-A-C-E.

Clearing the mental, as well as physical space is not only ritualistic for me, it is freeing. In the midst of the chaos of the world, my mind, my life, I am free to thought-bubble, scribble, hopscotch, dabble, dive-in, piece together, smooth out, finesse or even dump whatever I wish. Some would find my process messy, others may relate to a scattered, non-linear journey. Nonetheless, a clear space for me is freedom – the freedom to stretch my wings in the safety of my own sweet, floaty, Bubble-Yum-pink bubble. Though my safe, sweet creative bubble is imagined, the physical space around me is indeed as devoid of distraction as possible. Gone are the to-do lists, bills, things to be put away or straightened. The rest of my house may not be so orderly, but prepping my creative nook for the day is how I give myself permission and encouragement to express whatever is yearning to be let out of the monkey cage. And when my dogs begin barking, there’s a knock at the door, the commercial on Spotify is beyond annoying, and my pink, sparkly bubble begins to deflate, I inhale and exhale through my irritation and remember that I created ALL of this – my life – my world – my problems and I thank my lucky and divine stars. Then, I handle whatever needs to be handled. And when I return to my safe, pink lounge of promise, I do so with perspective. I reflect on everything that I have created and accomplished this far in my life. I see the faces of those who have helped me to get where I am today and slowly, my pink bubble begins to inflate again with gratitude, compassion and space – infinite space – to create more.

- Kris Schleder Hedberg

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23


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8 Responses to Haven Winter Blog Series #3: “Perfectionists”

  1. Christine, your Fanny needs to meet my Chyde Willoughby. The two have a lot in common :) Good job synchronizing with Fanny. Loving her into submission is a wise, creative approach.

    Kris, your thoughts about grace, s-p-a-c-e, and gratitude resonate with me. I agree we must create space to allow our creativity to appear.

    Beautiful writing, both of you!

    • Christine Watkins

      Susan… Thank you for your response. Chyde Willoughby. What a name! I used to have a dog named Mr. Willoughby so I’m struggling to get his scruffy muzzle out of my mind when I think of your comparable Fanny. ;) I wish I could say that I have, indeed, “loved Fanny into submission” but I think it’s been more of a journey learning to allow her into the room with me without resistance. Recognizing she is there, ALWAYS, and when I hear her chatter, learning to tune her out like a mama sometimes does with a cranky toddler. It’s a practice and I oftentimes remind myself of that as well. Thank you again for your kind words. xoxo

  2. Dear Christine, What a fun to read, wonderful piece! I immediately started to think about a next door neighbor I have that has a personal trainer named Sven who does everything she can to point out how much better I’d look if I took off a few pounds. I needed her to tell me this?! Then when I realized who your Fanny is, I realized just how many relatives she has. I loved that you went from the dark to the light, that you showed your struggle, doubt and vulnerability, but yet over came it all AFTER plowing through it! So many of us think we can side step it – yeah, it doesn’t work that way. You have to experience it, and find the custom lesson it teaches. Very well written, great message! Oh and at the end when I saw your title, it made me smile – my daughter is working on her PsyD in leadership psychology. So funny, I’d never heard of it before, now it seems to be THE common sense factor in business- which is a great thing. Again, well done!

    • Christine Watkins

      Thank you so much for your response! It’s always SO helpful to have neighbors/friends/family members/grocery clerks/teachers/etc. bestow their wisdom upon us, isn’t it? Hence the collective voice I spoke of in my piece. I oftentimes am absolutely stunned by the critics who feel perfectly comfortable telling me what I can do to improve myself even without my inquiry. May I invite you to remember that your neighbor perhaps has something in her life that she’s not willing to look at, therefore, she’s looking to address needs or concerns (of her creation) in others? Or perhaps, Sven is the best thing that’s happened to her in a long time and she just desperately wants to spread the love? ;) I’m so glad you liked reading my story and that you were able to discover Fanny’s relatives. Dancing with Fanny is tiring, but trying to resist her presence is utterly exhausting and leaves me depleted of any creativity. Plus, I kind of like dancing. Thank you again for your lovely reply and how wonderful for your daughter!!!! xoxo

  3. Hello Kris, Okay first think on Monday I want a sweat shirt printed with Tru Dat Wise Person. I LOVE that! My dogs DO stare me down and cooking is cheaper than therapy! Your work is fresh and alive – I can hear your voice tell me the story. And your story shares your deepest truest thoughts, without a filter. Wow! I wish I had a better vocabulary! But – well – Wow! The comparisons and images you tuck in your sentences, seem to be planted with purpose – it takes us in exactly the direction YOU wish, then gently invite us out of the hot air balloon, because the creativity is shared at the end, not during the process – and that is a powerful, important boundary to put up. Even if the boundary is made of air and dog barks. I really enjoyed your work!

  4. Christine Watkins

    Kris… I loved your beautiful writing and your gentle reminder to invite space into our lives. In a world where we jam pack our days and feel non-forgiving of ourselves when we rest or simply aren’t “busy”, this is an important reminder of the importance of allowing space to refuel. Placing value on this is so important!

    “Enter S-P-A-C-E. Clearing the mental, as well as physical space is not only ritualistic for me, it is freeing.”

    Thank you for sharing your words!

  5. Ladies, all I can say is Me, Too. And thank you for your truly lovely, honest pieces. My perfectionism is getting in the way of an assignment that I’ve been both running toward and away from for two months. Your words have inspired me.

    • Christine Watkins

      Thank you so much, Mary. I am thrilled that these pieces were inspiring to you. Invite your “Fanny” in, but just don’t let her take over. Listen to her and then remind her to settle down. You’ve got this.


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